Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female Genital Mutilation otherwise known as female genital cutting or female circumcision involves procedures that include the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons. It is usually performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 10. In simpler terms, FGM just like breast ironing is a barbaric practice carried out by mothers on their daughter’s private parts.

It involves using sharp objects with doubtful sterility to cut off the clitoris [the upper and most sensitive part of the vagina] of a young girl and then sew it up and just allowing a little passage for urine and menstrual blood. Their main goal is to keep away the girl child from having sexual feelings or anxiety in other to prevent her from becoming promiscuous before or in marriage. With such a conception which seem adorable to its authors, we weep out for our poor little sisters out there for the pain, trauma and health risks they are being put through. If all of these are allowed in the society, where are their rights to sexuality just like every other human being?

Why The Persistence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

FGM results in the cutting or removal of the tissues around the vagina that gives women pleasurable sexual feelings and is practiced for some of the following reasons;

For social and cultural control of women’s sexuality according to the proponents for the act and in its most extreme form, infibulations, where the girl’s vagina is sewn shut to ensure the girl child’s virginity.

In some cultures where female circumcision has been a tradition for hundreds of years, this procedure is considered a rite of passage for young girls and a reason being that families fear if their daughters are left uncircumcised, they may not be marriageable.

As in most cultures, there is also the fear that the girl might bring shame to the family by being sexually active and promiscuous hence becoming pregnant before marriage.

The ritual practice in some cultures of existence includes the cutting of the entire clitoris without anesthetic, sometimes as part of a maturity initiation rite. The procedure maybe performed in support of a mistaken belief that the absence of a clitoris will prevent a woman from experiencing orgasm or control masturbation and nymphomania.

Risks and Consequences of FGM

The immediate risks after the procedure are hemorrhage [excessive bleeding], severe pains, and infections [including abscesses, tetanus, and gangrene];

The most severe consequence is death due to excessive blood loss;

Long term complications include scarring, interference with the drainage of urine and menstrual blood, chronic urinary tract infections, pelvic and back pain, and infertility;

Sexual intercourse can be painful;

Complications of childbirth are also eminent risk factors. It is unclear whether it is related to the procedure itself, or related to the general condition of medical practice, but infant and maternal death rates are generally higher in those communities where female circumcision is practiced.

Aftercare Precautions for FGM

A girl or young woman who has recently had the procedure of FGM performed on her may require supportive healthcare to control bleeding and antibiotics to prevent infections.

Women who were circumcised as children may require medical care to treat complications.

Pregnant women who have been infibulated maybe required to have the labial tissue cut open to allow the baby to be delivered.

Most importantly, the aftercare procedures should be provided by qualified medical personnel or physician with a supportive and non judgmental approach towards the girls and women who have undergone this procedure.

Legal Consequences of Breast Ironing and Female Genital Mutilation

The Position of International law on Breast Ironing and FGM?

A number of international instruments have been very explicit on the development rights of the girl child through Human Rights guided principles. These include but not limited to;

1] Universal Declaration of Human Right [UDHR]

The UDHR was signed on December 10, 1948 and signed by most countries that ratified the UN Charter. UDHR is one major UN Instrument that protects the child. Paragraph one and five of the preamble of the Universal declaration of human rights makes recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in the larger freedom. Girl children are no exception in this principle and thus deserve to be treated with equal dignity to their person as part and parcel of the human family.

2] The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women [CEDAW]

On its part the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women seeks to protect and promote women against the back drop of their vulnerability. Signed in 1979, it provides the platform for women to shine and be brought to the fore. In this case therefore, the CEDAW thus calls on States parties to take all necessary measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of men and women with a view of achieving the elimination of prejudices.

3] Declaration on the Elimination of all forms of Violence against Women

Article 1 of this Declaration states that : the  term ‘’violence against women’’ means any act of gender based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women. This is an obvious situation with breast ironing and FGM on young girls. Article 2[a] on its part is very helpful as it states that violence against women shall be understood to encompass physical , sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women.

4] The Convention on the Rights of the Child

This convention that was signed in 1989 aims at protecting the best interest of the child. Through its Article 3[1], the child here will include the girl child whom we consider as the victim of two harmful and inhuman practices [breast ironing and female genital mutilation] which are against her best interest. Perpetrators of these barbaric acts may also think that it is for the best interest of the child and the family whereas it is neither for the interest of the child nor for the family. They are acts against the law. Article 16 [1][2] emphasizes that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation, the child therefore has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. Pounding the breasts and cutting the clitoris is directly interfering with the child’s health and privacy rights.

5] Beijing Declaration September 1995

Reaffirming their commitment to promote and protect all human rights of women and girls, women gathered during the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing China by every possible way were firm on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence perpetrated against girls and women as reflected in the declarations’ 38 articles. The Beijing platform has generated much positive attention so many years after on the elimination of violence and the empowerment of women and the girl child. Specifically, Article 9 gives reason to the very existence of this Declaration of the human rights of women and of the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

6] From the Millennium Development Goals [MDG] to the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]

Also, as per United Nations MDG number four which talks of reducing child mortality rates, it becomes obvious to add that the negative repercussions that accompany breast ironing and female genital mutilation practices on a contrary notice, instead increases child mortality rates. The recently introduced UN SDGs picks up from the MDGs and has a human centered development focus which emphasizes on the healthy wellbeing of all, implying the girl child considered. Specifically, SDG 3 speaks of the need to attain a healthy life for all at all ages and SDG 5 directs on the need to attain gender equality and empower women and girls.

7] The African Charter on the Rights and welfare of the Child

Adopted in 1990, the African Charter took the spirit of the UN Convention on the rights of the child in the protection of the child against discrimination. It states that in all actions concerning the child undertaken by any person or authority the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration. It further states that, States parties to the present Charter shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival, this Charter seeks to protect the child against torture and inhuman treatment especially physical or mental injury including sexual abuse. This article goes further to recommend protective measures that calls for the establishment of special  monitoring units by state to provide special support for the child and for those who have the care of the child as well as other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting referral investigation, treatment and follow up of instances of child abuse and neglect.

The Position of National Law

 The Constitution and the Penal Code

The constitution of Cameroon in its preamble presupposes the protection of the girl child when it states that ‘’every person has the right to life, to physical and moral integrity and to humane treatment in all circumstances. Under no circumstances shall any person be subjected to torture, to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment’’ According to law no. 2016/007 of 12 July 2016 relating to the Cameroon Penal Code, it denotes the following indication.

Section 277-1 addresses issues in direct relation to female genital mutilation.

Section 277-2 indirectly implicates perpetrators of breast ironing practices with capital punishments for from 6months to 5 years imprisonment and fine of 100,000FCFA to 1000.000FCFA. In particular, section 277 stipulates that ‘’whoever permanently deprives another member, organ or sense shall be punished with imprisonment from 10 to 20 years’’

Furthermore law No 2016/007 of July 2016 relating to the penal code severely punishes those perpetrating breast ironing and FGM practices.

The Role of Stakeholders in Curbing Breast Ironing and FGM

Giving the negative repercussions of breast ironing and FGM, it is paramount importance for some stakeholders to be actively involved in stamping out these ills. This can be harness through the society’s acculturation processes which are dully transmitted from the elderly to the younger generations. Some of these stakeholders will include magistrates, teachers, young girls, parents, lawyers, Religious leaders, the press, Parliament, traditional leaders, NGOs and other civil society bodies.

The role of the Teacher

The teacher possesses strategic advantages and strength in combating societal breast ironing and FGM practices. Some of these include:

Over the years of teaching and guiding young people, teachers have always been seen as role models for the society. As such, their behavior and life style in relation to these ills should serve as a good practical example for their communities to emulate.

The teacher whom by virtue of his/her professional ability has the endowment to change the pattern of cultural beliefs by disseminating useful and correct information, be it in his classroom or community at large.

The Role of the Press

Just like the teacher, the journalist on his part, is capable of building social awareness, educating and informing a wider audience in a short time on the barbaric nature of these two practices and bringing about change in the mind set.

The Role Religious Leaders

In the same light as the teacher and the journalists, religious leaders are capable of changing attitudes and conduct against the perpetration of breast ironing and FGM through faith building messages that they pass on to their followers in their places of worship or in their homes through counseling.

Role of Parliamentarians

Being the official law makers of the country, they owe the obligation to enact laws which will directly protect our girls against breast ironing and female genital mutilation thereby addressing these problems with an adequate legal framework and backings.

The Role of Magistrates/Judges

Being the interpreters of the law and endowed with the task of passing judgment on matters brought before the courts, they have the obligation to properly interpret the laws and severely punish perpetrators of these acts, thus sending strong signals that will deter potential perpetrators.

Magistrates are also capable of creating laws in areas where they are lacking through binding precedence. As such, judge-made laws in the mutilation are indispensible given that Cameroonian law is greatly lacking on these two practices.

The Role of Traditional Rulers

Being the custodians of customs and traditions, they are in the best position to prohibit and put an end to such harmful and inhuman practices in their communities by redressing the long existing harsh customary laws and traditions which appear repugnant to natural justice.

They are also in the best position to enlighten their subjects against these practices during cultural festivals.

The Role of NGOs and other Civil Societies Bodies

They are the legal mandate to create awareness, sensitize, and educate all other stakeholders through capacity building workshops thereby championing the fight against these two practices.

They also have the important role of standing as advocates for victims of breast ironing and FGM practices by bringing them relief either through preventive or redemptive measures.

In which way can the girl child be helpful to herself?

Strive to know her rights;

Stand for her rights;

Fight for her rights;

Speak out for her rights;

Educate her peers whenever possible;

Talk to counselors and civil society activists concerned in the fight.